Monday, May 14, 2012

Portland Exploration Day


On Sunday, I finally got motivated to get out of the house and make it down to Portland proper to try to get a feel for the city.  It was a beautiful day, and I ended up spending from about 11:00am until about 8:30pm, counting the train trip in (which I picked up at the Mt. Hood Avenue station).  This trip was just about finding things to do on subsequent trips, though -- so although I found a few places of interest, I didn't actually pay admission to get into anything.

Now, I've taken the train downtown a few times before, so that wasn't a new experience, but this was the first time that it was clear enough that you could see Mt. Hood from the train.  Heck, it's the first time that it has been clear enough that I noticed the "No Light Rail Parking" signs in the Target parking lot.  It is definitely frustrating that there isn't anywhere to park for the rail system.  More frustrating is that there is plenty of room for it (and the businesses in the area around the Mt. Hood Avenue station have much more parking than they need.  A quick check online showed a few other opportunities, though they may not really be viable (the Trimet website indicated they normally fill up by 7am on weekdays).  That could end up derailing (pardon the pun) my use of the light rail.  Fortunately, they didn't call my car in this time, so I will just need to adjust for any future trips downtown.

Seeing Mt. Hood on the way downtown was a really nice way to start the day.  I am going to need to get a better camera than my phone to carry with me when there is a chance to see the mountain.  My phone camera just doesn't do a very good job even seeing the mountain, since it kinda blends in with the clouds and sky, and the camera focuses on other things that are closer.  Still, it wouldn't have been a good picture from the train, anyway, since you saw it through a fence.

First stop was Powell Books.  A lot of people I met had talked it up as a landmark of the city.  For those not in the know, it's the largest new and used book store in the US, and covers several floors over an entire city block.  I was actually a little disappointed with the building from the outside.  It didn't look much like a landmark building, since the signs were a bit run down.  Still, once inside, it was very nice, and although I'm not really interested in books, I found it entertaining to browse the aisles.  They had a few displays for board games (though no more than an average Barnes & Noble), and a bunch of books that brought back memories (like a wall full of the blue Hardy Boys novels that I read when I was a little kid).  All in all, it was a decent experience, and one that I will definitely share with people that I think would be interested.  My older sister is possibly going to visit me early this summer, and I think she would love it.  She's got a collection that is probably over 1,000 books -- I'm sure she'd like to go to a store that has over 1,000,000.

Powell City of Books
Powell City of Books

Living Room Theaters
Living Room Theaters
On the way to Powell's City of Books, though, I ran into a couple interesting spots that I'd like to check out later.  The first was called Living Room Theaters.  They play independent movies in more of a lounge setting.  It seemed like a little film festival type place -- and although I never really attended film festivals in the other cities I've lived in, it struck me as different and interesting in Portland.

The Radish Underground
The Radish Underground -- it is shut!

The other place was just a unique shop called the Radish Underground.  It was an artsy shop with an interesting name.  Unfortunately, it was shut.  I get the feeling that's nomenclature specific to the store, though -- most of the other places that I saw used the more familiar "closed" wording.

Working/Playing Sign
Open or closed?  That's so old-fashioned. 
Except for this sign, which I don't even remember what the place was.  I just thought it was a unique sign, hanging off the building to indicate whether they were open or closed.  I don't recall there really being much in the building, so I figure that most of the time, they're in the playing mode.  If I were to ever open a game store, I'd get a similar sign.

The most bizarre sign, though, had to be the adult toys store sign advertising its wares.  I also thought it was kind of weird that this was in the Pearl District, which many had recommended as the upscale part of town.  Then again, there was odd placement of shops throughout Portland -- in another area of town, I saw a gentlemen's club next to a grocery store. Perhaps that is just par for the course here.

Make it Sizzle with Bacon Lube
Taking advantage of a dying meme.

You read it as guilt, too, didn't you?I was starting to get hungry, so I checked out some eateries.  The first that I ran into was the Gilt Club.  However, gold-plated food must be considered too expensive for lunch, since they didn't open until dinner hours.  I feel kind of bad that I didn't go in -- sort of gilty, if you'll pardon the pun.

Protector of the Chinese Rose Garden
Protector of the Chinese Rose Garden
Before I found something to eat, I found the Chinese Rose Garden.  I had heard someone mention it on a previous trip, so I stopped to take a few pictures.  I would have probably gone ahead and paid the admission if I weren't so hungry already (and if I had timed it better to get there in time for one of the musical performances).
Entrance to the Chinese Rose Garden
Entrance to the Chinese Rose Garden

From there, I wandered up to the Thirsty Lion Pub and had their spicy mac & cheese (which was good).  I could definitely see the Thirsty Lion becoming a hotspot for me when I'm downtown with friends.  The atmosphere was fun and sporting, and the hostess and servers were all very attractive and attentive.  It just seemed like a fun place to be after a game (or while you're wasting time before one).

Across the street from the Thirsty Lion, there were a bunch of tents set up like a festival was going on.  Apparently, Portland has what they call the Saturday Market, which lets a bunch of vendors crowd into spaces downtown near the river for the weekend and let people wander around.  Since it was such a beautiful day, it was fairly packed with people.  

I wandered around a bit, checked out some of the vendor's wares (there was even a boardgame vendor there trying to sell his Game of Real Life).  All in all, it was enjoyable because it was a nice day out, but that type of thing isn't normally my cup of tea.

I did eventually get past all the tents, booths, vendors, and people, and ended up walking along the Willamette River for a while.  It was quite peaceful to walk by the parks, where the people were a bit more spread out, sunbathing, tossing a ball around, practicing their hula hooping, and other park activities.  

I was impressed with the number of bridges.  I knew that Portland was known for their many bridges, but I didn't realize just how many they had (9 crossing the Willamette).  My favorite part, though, was when I got to the end of the trail, and could see Mt. Hood off in the distance, under a bridge.   I just sat there for a while to relax and contemplate life.  There was no one else around (though an
occasional biker would pass by, and there was one guy who took his dog to play down by the river).

Pictures just don't do it justice...the cloudy haze takes away much of the Mt. Hood beauty.

Toy boat, toy boat, toy boat
The other thing along the river that I enjoyed was seeing the tug boat.  It was apparently the last operating steam tugboat in the US, and had been converted to the Oregon Maritime Museum.  I will want to go visit it sometime to learn more about the maritime history of the area.

After relaxing for a little while, I headed back to the other side of town and continued my random journey.  I found myself stopping in a little arcade for a quick cooldown, and ended up playing a few dollars worth of arcade classics.  Most exciting to me was their collection of 20 or so pinball machines upstairs.  They had a good mix of old favorites (like Theater of Magic, FunHouse, The Addams Family, and T2) and less old ones, like the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars Episode 1 (I'm not really sure how old those ones are, but I'm guessing they're both going on 10 years now...I've just been out of the pinball loop for too long, I guess).  The name of this arcade was Ground Kontrol.  It was small, very blue, and good for a quick stop.  I was a little disappointed that the bathroom required a key, but I guess they didn't want to open themselves up to the vagrants (of which there were many in the city).

On the way back, I noticed a small shop that had quite a line to get in.  By now, it was about 4pm, so I assumed it was a place for dinner.  I was a bit surprised to see that it was actually a doughnut shop -- why was there such a long line at 4pm for doughnuts?  I guess they are really good donuts -- the story on the Voodoo Doughnut site doesn't sound like there is a lot of history, just a cool name and good doughnuts.  Perhaps it is just odd enough that we'll end up having our wedding's cheap and can include doughnuts for 6 people, which is about the right size, I think.  Regardless, if there is anyone from the area that can explain what the big deal is with Voodoo doughnuts before I go stand in line, I'd appreciate the comments below.

By this time, I was starting to get a little tired, so to rejuvinate myself, I worked my way back to the center of town and sat in the Pioneer Courthouse Square to catch my breath.  Several others must have had the same thought, as it was full of people just sitting and relaxing.  Some were reading the names on the bricks of the courtyard, possibly looking for their own.  If this blog goes anywhere, I'll definitely need to get a brick of my own.

When I was refreshed, I decided to take a train a little further out of town and see what was around.  I took the blue line to Washington Park, not knowing that it was the stop for the Oregon Zoo, World Forestry Museum, and Portland Children's Museum.  Since everything was closed (and it didn't look like there was anything else nearby), I didn't want to miss the next train back, so I didn't spend much time walking around.  Apparently, this stop also houses the Portland Japanese Garden and International Rose Test Garden.  There is a lot to do at this stop -- I'll have to be sure to make a day of it at some point.

Back in the city, relaxed from catching an air-conditioned train back to town, I figured I'd check out the Rose Garden Arena.  There wasn't much else going on around there, though, so I just took a quick picture and hopped back on a train further downtown to find something to eat.
I wandered around the city, but didn't find anything that was open that really struck my fancy.  A lot of the cuter diners and bakeries were closed (or about to close, since it was close to 7pm), so I just ended up hitting BW3s.  It was quick and convenient and gave me an opportunity to watch the Kings - Coyotes game before heading home.

Overall, a very interesting day with a lot of sun and exercise, two things that I don't get enough of.  I've got some great ideas for things that I want to do now.  Still, I'm sure I missed some things (like the soccer stadium, which I plan to rectify next weekend), so if you have any recommendations for other things that I need to see or places that I need to eat, please let me know in the comments below!

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